Someone else always has it worse
Everyone has feelings. Everyone has ups and downs. Yet, we often feel that there are people out there suffering more than we are, and therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to feel bad. We struggle when comparing our concerns about finances to the concerns of people who live in third-world countries; our stress about time-management and the mess in our home to the stress of people facing natural disasters; or the pain of our temporarily aching back to the pain of those that undergo daily treatments to stay alive. We often hear ourselves or others say “It could be worse,” “I should be thankful for what I have,” “I need to stop feeling so sorry for myself,” or “Get over it.”
Suffering is relative
While having those thoughts may at times help us to gain a healthy perspective on our own circumstances or reality, they may also be a way in which we invalidate our own experience and suppress our current struggle. Regardless of the objective severity of the problem that we face, we still have our subjective reaction. We all experience stress, we all feel depressed, and we all suffer.
“A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative.” – Viktor Frankl
The reality is that suffering, much like other human experiences, is relative. Our personal ordeal is not to be brushed under the rug because comparatively, “it’s not that painful/stressful/horrifying/__________(fill in the blank).” Invalidating our own feelings, minimizing them, and rejecting them, can often be harmful to our well-being. It may lead to increased negative feelings, withdrawal, isolation, and emotional dysregulation. In other words, denying our suffering only because it doesn’t reach some “ideal” threshold of adversity or torment can actually create further suffering.
If suffering is relative, be your own constant
Below are some ways to be with our suffering instead of our usual invalidating, minimizing, or rejecting our experience of distress.
Accept your feelings. Recognizing and validating one’s own feelings and emotions are often the first steps in the healing process. Accepting our feelings allows us to recognize our injury and assess our needs. Regardless of how objectively big or small our problem is, accepting our subjective experience of the problem may help us to reflect on its origins and will likely inform and expand our capacity to cope.
Assess your needs. We may also need to take the time to evaluate the hardships we face, how we are coping, and if we need support. Reflecting on how we address the difficulties we confront allows us to discover whether there are more effective ways of handling the situation. There is a variety of ways in which we can all improve our patterns of coping. If we realize that we don’t know how to do that, it may be the time to recognize that we need help, and what’s more—that we can accept help.
It’s a both/and, not an either/or. Remember that acknowledging the feelings and thoughts that come with our circumstances does not disqualify us from also having empathy for others dealing with “worse”, the two are not mutually exclusive. We can feel our feelings and have compassion for others too. As a matter of fact, by coming fully in touch with our pain, we are actually likely to be more present to others’ journeys.
If you are currently experiencing distress in your life, and feel that you would like to further explore your own ways of minimizing or invalidating your experience, do not hesitate to call us and request an intake with one of WILA’s compassionate and curious intern-therapists. It may be helpful to look into some of these patterns and to discover other ways of being with your suffering. You can reach us at (424) 371-5191, or go to http://www.wila.org/affordable-psychotherapy/begin-therapy/ to take your first step.